Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:2a “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these;. . .”
Christ taught multitudes, but poured His life into a small band of men. Both approaches are still needed. We broadcast our message to masses, and also build organizations whereby life can be conveyed in small groups and even one on one. The many and the few–celebration and cell–both remain vital to a healthy church.
Luke (6:12-13) tells us Jesus chose the Twelve after having spent a whole night in prayer. Our staff has tediously prayed this summer over a long list of our church members’ names. We’ve been asking God to give us laborers. I pray our prayers will yield the same positive results Jesus’ prayers did. We would never presume to speak for God in your individual cases, but do be assured your name has been prayed over. If asked to serve, take time to pray before saying yes or no.
The New Testament lists the names of Jesus’ twelve disciples four times (MT 10:2-4; MK 3:16-19; LK 6:14-16; AC 1:13), always in three groups of four. Peter, Philip, and James the son of Alphaeus always head the groups. Each disciple always appears in the same group, though their order varies within each group.
A list of names can bore or excite, depending on why it is being read. My in-laws recount how in World War II, after families had been notified, names of local soldiers killed or wounded in action would be read aloud each night over the radio. All other activity ceased while people listened to hear whether or not they would recognize the name of a neighbor or acquaintance. When I played basketball, Coach Garrett posted on a bulletin board outside his office the names of all who survived each cut. I was always excited to see my name on the team list. The most interesting book in all the world, if read aloud, would be the Lamb’s Book of Life, which lists the names of those who for sure will go to Heaven when they die.
The list in our text is also very interesting. These twelve were given the initial responsibility of carrying Jesus’ story to all the world. They spawned human history’s largest and most radical sociological change. Under their marching feet, they trampled Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and a thousand other false gods.
Their heroics move us. The world hated and hounded the Twelve mercilessly, but now honors them. They will someday mount thrones to rule with King Jesus, and their names are forevermore carved in Heaven’s foundation stones. It is an honor to consider them one by one.
Matt. 10:2b “The first, Simon, who is called Peter,. . .”
No group can function effectively without a leader, and among the Twelve, Simon was the first, the foremost. His name appears first in all four lists of the disciples. It would be hard to overstate the importance of Peter in church history.
Simon was leader of the Twelve, but did not hold absolute authority over them. If Peter was their Holy Father, someone forgot to tell the eleven. They didn’t know it, and disputed among themselves as to which of them was the greatest.
Like us, Peter was seriously flawed. None of the Twelve would have ever called him infallible. Paul actually rebuked Peter and put him in his place (GL 2:9-14). The fanciful notion of infallible leaders succeeding from Peter is a myth, fabricated out of whole cloth, and read back into Scripture hundreds of years later.
The Twelve were servants, not bosses. Their authority manifested itself not in lording over others, but in their teachings. From the earliest days, the Apostles’ teachings have been held to be the true body of truth to which the faithful church has always devoted herself (AC 2:42). Paul says the Apostles were the foundation (EP 2:20), and a foundation is laid once and for all, not continually added to. The Apostles, through their writings in the New Testament, still exert authority.
Simon was the most colorful of the Twelve. He finally lived up to the name Jesus gave him, Rock (Aramaic, Cephas; Greek, Petros), but it took him a long time to arrive. Early on, Peter was cocky and impulsive. Deeming it easier to gain forgiveness than permission, he lived life with one foot on the accelerator and one foot in his mouth. Never afraid to let his weaknesses show, he argued, threw temper fits, bragged, cursed, tried to decapitate a man, plus rebuked and denied Jesus.
To help Peter go from instability to dependability, Jesus led him through the painful tunnel of brokenness. Many have followed their trek. George W. Truett is revered as Southern Baptists’ greatest pastor. He had to pass through the tunnel. He killed his best friend in a hunting accident. They say he never laughed out loud again. Hudson Taylor went to China by way of the tunnel. He had to give up the love of his life. She said she would not go. The decision almost killed him. I was present one time when a man traversed the tunnel, choosing the ministry over a woman. He writhed on my living room floor like a maggot in hot ashes. I finally had to hold him in my arms to steady him. I don’t think anyone has mounted the heights of usefulness without passing through the tunnel. A career setback, a death, sickness, disappointment–the old nature within us is so strong that it seems God has no other choice than to break it somehow. If a little lamb wanders to its own peril, a shepherd will break its leg and hold the sheep close to himself until it heals. By then, the sheep has learned the habit of staying close to the shepherd.
Brokenness made Simon usable. The Lord saw what Peter could become and broke the old man so a new man could be birthed and released. The chief, but not last, tunnel in Peter’s life was his bitter weeping after denying Jesus. In his tears, self-mastery dissolved. Peter was committed to being a disciple on his own terms. Through a convulsion of tears, he learned this attitude was not acceptable.
Serving the Lord entails setting self and its desires totally aside. It is a slavery, based on love for sure, but slavery nonetheless, a total abdication of personal aspiration. Henry Drummond once said, “The entrance fee into the kingdom of heaven is nothing; however, the annual subscription is everything.”
Due to the blood Jesus shed as our substitute sacrifice, salvation is free to us, but to follow Him as a true disciple costs everything. We are not only saved by the blood, but also bought by it. We belong totally to Jesus (1 C 6:19-20).
For me, this is the most painful part of being a Christian. The Lord seems to find it essential to walk me through the tunnel of brokenness often. (“Thank You, Lord, for walking it with me.”) I seemingly have to be reminded constantly, vividly, and dramatically that my will does not matter. Like Paul, I must die daily. This means something is wrong with me everyday. Each day I must find and remove what is wrong. The tunnel is recurring. The brokenness has to be ongoing.
After hearing Jesus preach, the people said His words were “difficult” (JN 6:60 NAS). They were not saying His sermon had been hard to understand. They were instead acknowledging the fact His words were hard to accept.
In the Bible, what I don’t understand isn’t nearly as frightening as what I do understand. Revelation isn’t nearly as scary as the Sermon on the Mount.
The path we trod is arduous, but we take heart in knowing Simon Peter eventually became steadfast, immovable. Thank You, Jesus, for never giving up on Peter. It gives us confidence to continue the trek. Thank You, Jesus, that every time Peter failed, You helped him get back up. It inspires us never to quit.
By passing through many tunnels of brokenness, Peter eventually learned and demonstrated the cost of true discipleship. The early church historian Eusebius records the cruel death of Peter. Before he was executed, Peter was forced to witness his wife’s martyrdom. He stood at the foot of her cross and kept repeating to her, “Remember the Lord. Remember the Lord.” Once she died, and it was his turn to be nailed to a cross, Peter asked to be crucified upside down, thinking it too great an honor to die in the same position as his Master did. The last words he ever wrote summarize the lesson he learned in the tunnels of brokenness. “To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 P 3:18). It’s all about Jesus, not us.